Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! – 09

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Ah, Watamote – why must you take me on this emotional thrill ride every week?

In all my years of watching anime, there’s never been anything that strikes me as much similar to Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!.  There have been plenty of black comedies and some of them brilliant ones, too, but I can’t recall another show that’s so straddles the border between being a comedy and not being one at all.  I’ve watched nine episodes of this show and I still don’t really know what the hell it is, to be honest.  I just know it makes me feel much more deeply than most shows do, and that means it’s doing an awful lot of things right.

What I see this week is a portrait of a lost girl on a road I’ve seen others walk before, and maybe that’s why even if Watamote makes me laugh sometimes (it certainly does, often and loudly) I can never truly let myself go and enjoy it as a comedy.  There are those who have obviously been close to Tomoko – her Mom (and presumably her Dad), Tomoki, Yuu-chan and Kii-chan – and each of them in their own way is slipping away from her.  Tomoko, of course, is well aware of this, though she’s powerless to prevent it.  Rather, she pushes each of them away in her own way, like calling Yuu “bitch” because of her social success (and boobs), sullenly fighting with her mother and generally antagonizing her brother at every turn.

Some of this is normal teenage rage, no doubt – as a rule 15 year-olds fight with their parents and spend less time with younger siblings as a normal part of adolescence.  But there’s a phenomena happening where especially Tomoki and Yuu are visibly tiring of dealing with Tomoko.  Like most who suffer from serious S.A.D. and other depressive disorders Tomoko is a pain in the ass to deal with.  She’s no doubt become much more of a load since the hormones kicked in, but part of it too is that Tomoki and Yuu are living in an expanding world even as Tomoko’s is shrinking.  They have choices now they didn’t use to have – Tomoki isn’t a pre-teen child and has a fully-functional social life, and Yuu has other friends who require a lot less effort.  Mom, of course, doesn’t have a choice, and in many ways the way she deals with her daughter, while not especially heartwarming, seems like a reassuringly normal frustrated mother dealing with a surly teen.  But the more I see her the more I detect a little undercurrent of panic in her eyes and her voice when she interacts with her daughter.  She knows there’s something bigger going on here, and doesn’t want to admit it to herself.

The first chapter this week is in many ways the least painful of the trio, but it does point up a common problem in teenage friendships – very often one side isn’t the equal of the other.  A movie date that probably wasn’t that big a deal to begin with for Yuu means everything to Tomoko, and when Yuu cancels she effectively wipes out the highlight of Tomoko’s summer break.  Yuu has a good reason – she’s working part-time at her Uncle’s foofy cafe.  She invites Tomoko for a complimentary dessert, which Tomoko accepts as it at least gives her something to do (though she panics when she arrives and sees the place filled with young couples).  She also gets a bee in her bonnet that if she could somehow get a similar gig with a cute uniform, she’d become popular in a flash.  When she begs her Mom to think of a friend in the cake business, Mom surprisingly knows one – but the result, rather than a romantic French patisserie or a clandestine liaison in the kitchen with a hot baker and a gallon of frosting – turns out to be an I Love Lucy style nightmare, a Dickensian sweatshop full of chain-smoking adults that sends Tomoko into a catatonic state.

With this fresh reminder of what a child Tomoko still is, and how unprepared for the world, Watamote launches into one of the things it’s incredibly good at.  That is, making me really hate Tomoko and then, at the drop of a hat, making my heart break for her.  We see Tomoko at her worst – sullen and self-pitying, dismissive of the unpaid labor her mother puts in around the house and viciously attacking Tomoki for having the gall to actually help out like he’s supposed to and work hard to prepare for entrance exams (for which she accuses him of being like the MC of a light-novel).  I know this person very well – I grew up with her, in effect – and she’s a nightmare to be around.  Tomoki as usual shows more grace than a 14 year-old often might (effectively turning the other cheek rather than taking the bait) and Mom gives Tomoko a pretty light punishment – she lets her off helping her clean the house but forces her to clean her room.  This leads to a bleakly hilarious trip down memory lane where Tomoko shows a shocking lack of sentimentality in chucking her childhood memories into the bin – that is, until she stumbles upon a box full of cicada shells and a journal entry from Tomoki (this memory not more than a few years old) where he professes his love for his Onee-chan (as in episode 7 with the voice of Seri Akiko), and details the reasons why.

It’s really a remarkable transition the show makes here – like a 180 degree turn at 100 MPH without slowing down.  What’s been acid and harsh becomes unapologetically sentimental.  Having just seen Tomoko at her most unlikable we now see her at her most vulnerable – a lost child who fully realizes just how alone she is in the world.  We’ve seen this before with Watamote – Tomoko builds a stout wall out of anger and delusion, only to see it come crashing down when she stumbles on some reminder of what her reality is.  I kid you not, my heart absolutely broke for her in that last chapter – she was just so desperate for something so simple and elemental that everyone should be entitled to, and that’s a connection with other people – yet she’s unable to make it.  When she sat there on that bench slurping instant ramen and watching the meteor shower, alone, it might just have been the saddest moment in anime this year – and I think that’s because she was so acutely aware of why it was so sad.  I’ve praised (and rightly so, I’ll add) episode 8 of Uchouten Kazoku for being incredibly emotionally transcendent and heartbreaking.  But the difference is that even as the Shimogamo family was dealing with their terrible moment, they had each other – that’s the thing that sustains them through everything.  Who does Tomoko have, really?

It’s hard to watch a sequence like the meteor shower chapter and not come to the conclusion that what makes Watamote so remarkable is how utterly ruthless it is.  Not only is it encyclopedically accurate about the agonies of severe anxiety disorder, but it shows no mercy in depicting them – there are no pulled punches in the usual anime fashion.  Tomoko isn’t a nice person most of the time, but she wants mostly what anyone wants – love – and she isolates herself more and more with each act of depravity she engages is.  There’s no light at the end of her tunnel, unless it’s an oncoming train – her life sucks, and there’s no obvious reason to think it’s going to get anything but worse.  I keep waiting for Watamote to pull up, to step back from the cliff, but it never does.  At best we get the oddly moving moments that always seem to come at the end of episodes, the tiny little kernel of hope in the most bizarre or inappropriate circumstances.  Here, Tomoko’s wish does come true after all, and she gets a boy to watch the meteor shower with – a tomcat.  But he likes her, at least and for a few moments anyway she’s not totally alone.  When it comes to Tomoko and Watamote, you need to take your uplift wherever you can find it.

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  1. R

    Actually, in the last act where Tomoko sits on the bank they left out a Sentence from Manga after the "Pain is the Spice of Life part".
    In the Manga she added: "I can´t think like that… Otherwise I´ll want to kill myself while
    looking down in a Dark place.", which shows that she reached a point where she at least starts to think about suicide.

    Wonder wether they cut that sentence out because they found the scene already depressing enough or because suicide is too much of a Taboo theme in Japan.

  2. I don't know if it's right or wrong, to be honest. But my initial reaction is that it was right the way the anime depicted it. The whole thing is just so exquisitely sad (and plenty dramatic) the way it was.

  3. G

    I really had to stop watching this series as I have a family member very similar to Tomoko and its too unbearable to watch. Only thing she is missing is alcohol and narcotics to dull her pain, guess that will come later when she is of legal age.

  4. What makes you think she'll wait that long?

    In the case of "my" Tomoko, it was prescription drugs, though that didn't start until adulthood.

  5. V

    It's sad how people like her seems to get almost never better, and even if their problem is intern, I don't think it's really their fault.

  6. i

    At what point do you think Mama dearest is going to start sending her delusional daughter to a psychiatrist? As a parent shouldn't she do more to help her or as you say does she not realize the extent of the problem?

    In any case Tomoko was supremely annoying for most of the episode but I guess that's what the mangaka(s) are going for because it certainly was sad at the end. There weren't many gags beside the 'bread factory' joke to cushion the depressing atmosphere. Do hope there is a bit more comedy like the first few episodes as the new term starts.

  7. I think the Mom is definitely in denial. As I've watched more of her I've come to think she's not quite as successfully deluding herself as I first thought – I now suspect there's a little voice in her head that's constantly telling her Tomoko needs help, but she's able to pretend she can't hear it most of the time.

    Fact is, there's no magic bullet for Tomoko. Psychology or psychiatry might help her, or it might not – but it's still better than the status quo, which is a one-way ticket to a miserable adolescence and eventually adulthood (if she doesn't literally or metaphorically self-destruct entirely first).

  8. i

    'I know this person very well – I grew up with her, in effect – and she's a nightmare to be around'

    Just out of curiosity, what on earth is that about? Is is Tomoki's thoughts or yours?

  9. e

    @Ishruns: as a polite guess based on previous posts hints the gut feeling is on the latter…

  10. i

    Sounds tough. I grew up in essence with a Ke$ha clone, which is sort of the opposite of someone with SAD but quite mortifying nonetheless.

  11. R

    I think I can understand what Enzo's saying, and I do find it easy to relate to Tomoki…

    When Tomoko stomped into Tomoki's room and threw a tantrum, I almost wanted to hit her head — well, her mom did — but I wanted so much to give her a hug when she's alone on the bench with tears coming down. This is all too familiar… By the way, I like how Tomoko left a cicada shell on Tomoki's desk, but, of course, Tomoki wouldn't know what the heck that was.

    A person, especially a family member, like Tomoko can absolutely drive you crazy — and sometimes to the point that you would rather be the one jumping off a bridge — but you can't (or I couldn't) really ignore or abandon Tomoko because it's family. Anything happens to a family affects everyone in the family, and the process for the family, especially for situations like Tomoko's, goes from not knowing, to ignoring, to denying, to accepting, and to embracing. I think Tomoko's family is in between ignoring and denying, and this is where it's most painful for everyone. With only a few episodes left, I don't think we will see any changes to the show but the same roller coaster ride every week — which is fine. I do wonder if the manga goes beyond this stage and shows some changes in Tomoko's family — or is it too much of a taboo to talk about getting professional help?

  12. j

    Not once has Tomoko really acknowledged that she may have a problem, and not once has anyone brought it up to her (probably because most of the problem is her mentality rather than her actions, but still).

    I don't know how long this anime is gonna last, but it seems since the manga is ongoing, we won't be seeing a resolution any time soon ::sadface:: I just hope the manga eventually wraps up in a nice and comedic, but realistic manner.

  13. R

    Yeah, I doubt we will see any resolution this season. Probably it will just be a bittersweet ending with a glimmer of hope.

    At this point I doubt that there will be a magical moment like the first meeting between Kotoura and Manabe from where on suddenly everything will suddenly start to get better.

    My guess is the Author is rather going for the more realistic slow, painful und frustrating course of recuperation with Tomoko that will involve a lot of Failures and Setbacks, which is closer to what
    dealing with SAD Patients tends to be.

  14. S

    I doubt she realizes there is actually something wrong with her and deep down just thinks it's her own fault.

  15. S

    I have to say, I almost cried at the shooting stars scene. The way reality crashes down and she admits to herself why she's so depressed. I've been there myself and it's not a nice place to be, which is why someone like Tomoko will do anything to avoid thinking those thoughts, including blaming everyone else.

    But there's always a bit of hope, even if its a friendly cat, the series really shines when it gets to those parts, otherwise it would be an unwatchable conveyor belt of misery.

    Like others have said, I really appreciate that there's no 'magic bullet' to improve things. In reality, it's a long tortuous process to recover from a mental hole like that.

  16. N

    Lol I hadn't understood what that pic she sent was representing but now that I see it here I understand.

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